Center For American Progress, Center For National Policy, Center For Defense Information Urge Obama To Cut Funds

Several Washington think tanks that urge deep cuts in some missile defense and other military acquisition programs stand ready to become the brain trust for newly triumphant Democrats who will occupy all three centers of power — the White House, Senate and House — for the first time in 14 years.

The Center for American Progress (CAP), the Center for Defense Information (CDI) and the Center for National Policy (CNP) are in the vanguard of think tanks and Washington veterans urging President-elect Obama to slash some defense programs or eliminate them entirely.

Those think tanks are pressing to have as great an influence on defense spending and priorities in the new Democratic dynasty as conservative think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute and The Heritage Foundation had during the Reagan, George Bush Sr. and George Bush Jr. administrations.

While Obama has said missile defense is necessary, he also said he doesn’t wish to fund programs that haven’t been proven to work. Proponents of missile defense systems not yet fully developed, however, ask how they ever can be developed and become workable under such a standard.

Obama and the newly elected Congress next year will decide defense spending levels for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2010, and the think tank papers would on the one hand push undecided officials toward reducing or discarding military procurement programs.

On the other hand, those think tanks and others stand ready to provide the intellectual firepower, statistics and arguments for elected officials, chiefly Democrats, who already have decided to seek such defense spending cuts, perhaps as a way to free funds for domestic spending initiatives.

Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), who chairs the House Armed Services Committee strategic forces subcommittee, has challenged several missile defense programs and suggested cutting them. (Please see separate story in this issue.)

Generally, the think tanks take aim at missile defense programs still in development, such as the Airborne Laser (ABL), systems that are not yet completed and deployed. But even a major already-built system, the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) asset, is criticized for not having sufficient testing. It is the only missile defense program designed to kill incoming enemy long-range missiles. Both the ABL and GMD are led by The Boeing Co. [BA]. Tauscher also has criticized those programs.

In rapid-fire succession this month, the three think tanks issued voluminous papers outlining ways to slash defense programs.

For example, CDI published a paper asserting that the European Missile Defense (EMD) program, a variant of the GMD, should be canceled along with the ABL, while also urging that the GMD, the Aegis/Standard Missile sea-based system, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system and the Patriot air-defense program should be pushed back into research and development, cutting off any further procurement or deployment. (Please see full story in Space & Missile Defense Report, Monday, Dec. 8, 2008.)

In similar fashion, both the CDI and CNP papers also advocate spending reductions.

CNP Urges Deep Cuts

For example, the CNP paper asserts that new and experimental defense hardware programs should be banned for the next two years.

The paper also, in general, advocates shifting the overall defense focus to buying smaller, less expensive systems for conflicts such as the war on terror, with less emphasis on procuring formidable, higher-priced weapons systems to take on near-peer or major powers.

Further, the paper asserts that the Navy should kill the DDG 1000 Zumwalt Class destroyers procurement program (General Dynamics Corp. [GD] and Northrop Grumman Corp. [NOC]) after the first three are built because they’re expensive, while the Air Force should build just 203 pricey F-22 Raptor strike fighter aircraft (Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT]) instead of the 381 the Air Force requested.

To avoid wasting the billions of dollars invested in completing designs for the DDG 1000s, their new cutting-edge technologies should be migrated to other vessels, where possible, the paper counsels.

It also recommends cutting the number of lower-cost F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (Lockheed), the Lightning II, by an unspecified amount. That’s the U.S. armed services buy. It’s possible that increased foreign orders from allied nations could offset any cut.

To be sure, the paper recommends increasing some buys, calling for procuring more of the DDG 51 Arleigh Burke Class destroyers (General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman) that were designed in the 1980s, and moving immediately — next year — to double the annual buy of Virginia Class attack submarines (General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman jointly) to two a year, and perhaps make a later increase to three a year, so that the Navy has at least 50 nuclear attack submarines in its fleet, the paper recommends. And the Navy should preserve U.S. capabilities to design submarines by accelerating development of a successor to the Virginia Class.

Overall, the plan calls for increasing the total number of Navy ships and submarines in the fleet to 325. That was the level recommended by Adm. Vern Clark, a former chief of naval operations. His successor as CNO, Adm. Michael Mullen, offered a different plan that still is the official Navy goal, building to a fleet of 313 vessels. Mullen now is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

While canceling purchase of further DDG 1000s because they are expensive, with estimates ranging from $3 billion to $4.6 billion per ship for the first two produced, the paper suggests buying many of the much cheaper Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) (General Dynamics-Austal USA making one version, and Lockheed Martin-Marinette Marine/Bollinger Shipyards building another, separately). The LCS which earlier had a target price of $220 million for the basic ship (not including swap on-swap off multi-mission packages) but turned out to cost roughly twice that. The LCS comes in two separate versions. The program at times has been frozen by cost concerns.

Even if each LCS cost $500 million, however, that would be one-sixth or less the cost of a new destroyer.

To cut LCS costs further, the paper recommends eliminating one of the signature capabilities of the near-shore fighters: speed. Each LCS is supposed to be able to move about 50 to 55 mph. One version of the LCS is based on a very high-speed Australian ferry boat with three aluminum hulls (trimaran).

For the Navy procurement programs generally, the paper recommends that a "widespread move to lower-cost platforms should be considered."

While cutting there, the paper recommends adding more interchangeable mission modules that give the LCS an outsized series of capabilities (hunting enemy submarines, taking out enemy mines, and killing terrorist-piloted swarm boats). The new missions would aid the Marine Corps, providing surface fire-support (a strong point of the DDG 1000), a special operations module, and a humanitarian assistance module.

The paper also calls for a review of Marine Cops amphibious ship needs, with the report due to Congress next year.

The report recommends that the Navy move to awarding fixed-cost shipbuilding contracts, pushing the risk of cost overruns onto contractors instead of taxpayers bearing that risk, where that is feasible, on a case-by-case basis.

As far as aircraft, aside from cutting buys of manned platforms such as the F-22 and F-35, the paper recommends far greater procurement of lower-cost unmanned aerial vehicles and unmanned combat aerial vehicles.

If the armed forces require more logistics air capabilities, then the Air Force should buy more C-17 transports from Boeing, keeping production lines hot instead of closing them, the paper advises.

The report also recommends continuing the Army Future Combat Systems acquisition program (Boeing and SAIC as lead systems integrators) that would buy new-design vehicles, aircraft and more, continuing research and development on the 14 remaining systems envisioned in the program. But perhaps that wouldn’t occur as soon as planned. The Army "should also explore expanding even further its delivery timeline in order to accommodate ongoing development of critically needed FCS technologies," the paper advises.

Perhaps the most costly recommendation in the paper is to increase the number of military personnel, adding 65,000 soldiers and 25,000 Marines by 2013.

The paper was authored by Scott Bates, CNP vice president and senior fellow, and Zachary Warrender, communications and policy associate.

Bates said to reporters in a briefing that "we don’t have a near-peer competitor who’s about to eat our lunch," so there is time for a two-year hiatus in bringing forth new- technology procurement programs. Near-peer is a frequently used shorthand for China and its People’s Liberation Army forces. Still, "we have little room for error" to stay ahead of potential enemies.

CAP Plan Slashes Defense

The CAP paper, like the CDI report, advocates significant cuts in missile defense programs.

Some $13.15 billion could be saved over four years by canceling the ABL, the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI), the Space Tracking and Surveillance System, and the Multiple Kill Vehicle (MKV), according to the CAP report authored by Lawrence J. Korb, CAP senior fellow, and several others.

And the CAP paper calls for freezing development of the already-built GMD "until it has proven itself in realistic operational tests," plus halting the EMD program as well. "The United States military would not field an aircraft that does not fly or a ship that does not float, and it should not deploy a missile defense system that has not been proven to work properly," the paper argued.

It also includes a broadside questioning whether any defense is needed against incoming enemy missiles tipped with nuclear devices or other weapons of mass destruction.

"Questions remain about how effective and how necessary [Missile Defense Agency] systems are," the CAP paper asserts.

Killing the entire U.S. missile defense effort would save roughly $38 billion over four years, according to the CAP paper.

The paper takes aim at systems such as ABL and KEI that would kill enemy missiles in their most vulnerable phase of flight, the boost phase, shortly after liftoff. That’s when an enemy missile is emitting a white-hot, easily tracked exhaust, before the enemy weapon has a chance to spew forth multiple warheads, decoys or confusing chaff.

"Scientists argue that simple physics make boost-phase intercepts extraordinarily difficult – potential interceptors cannot reach target missiles fast enough to destroy them before they release their payloads," the CAP paper argues. "Mid-course defenses remain vulnerable to basic countermeasures and can be overwhelmed by simple numbers of targets. Terminal defenses are still plagued by the problem of ‘hitting a bullet with a bullet.’"

But the chief boost-phase missile defense program is the ABL, which includes a heavily-modified 747-400 jumbo jet built by prime contractor Boeing, a very high-powered laser system by Northrop Grumman, and a beam control-fire control system by Lockheed Martin. Since the laser that kills the enemy missile is a beam of light, it moves at the speed of light, striking the enemy weapon in a second. Further, the laser beam continues to hit the enemy missile until it is demolished, rather than having to strike it at one precise point in space and time, eliminating the problem of hitting a bullet with a bullet. And while the KEI is a backup boost-phase interceptor, it has gained far greater acceleration in the past two years.

Further, the MKV directly takes on the concern of many missile defense critics by ensuring that it can kill enemy missiles that spit out multiple warheads.

The CAP report also asserts that U.S. moves to develop ballistic missile defense systems irritate the Russians.

"Missile defense in a conventional [war] strategy could be cut wholesale to pay for other conventional priorities," the report states. The $9 billion Missile Defense Agency budget "equals just over two thirds of the Navy’s $13 billion shipbuilding budget, [and] it could also pay for 60 F-22 Raptors." This argument would seem to encourage other military agencies to raid the missile defense programs, thereby obtaining extra funds.

"The next president and defense secretary could alternatively slow down or eliminate unproven missile defense systems such as the Airborne Laser," the CAP paper offers. "Congress reduced funding for unproven systems in the latest [fiscal 2009] defense budget and added it for Aegis BMD, GMD, and THAAD systems. But if the next administration shares the Bush administration’s optimistic assessment of missile defense and pessimistic threat assessment, it can fully fund MDA."

The papers and other work of the think tanks may be read in full and printed out at: on the Web.